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Source: American Monthly Review of Reviews
Source type: magazine
Document type: article
Document title: “The Last Days of President M’Kinley: His Visit to Buffalo, the Tragedy, and the Nation’s Mourning”
Author(s): Wellman, Walter
Date of publication: October 1901
Volume number: 24
Issue number: 4
Pagination: 414-30

 
Citation
Wellman, Walter. “The Last Days of President M’Kinley: His Visit to Buffalo, the Tragedy, and the Nation’s Mourning.” American Monthly Review of Reviews Oct. 1901 v24n4: pp. 414-30.
 
Transcription
full text
 
Keywords
William McKinley; McKinley assassination; William McKinley (medical condition); William McKinley (recovery); William McKinley (death); Theodore Roosevelt (assumption of presidency); McKinley funeral services.
 
Named persons
Manuel de Azpiroz [identified as Aspiroz below]; Grover Cleveland; George B. Cortelyou; Leon Czolgosz; William R. Day; Thomas Edison; Edward VII; George F. Foster; Henry Clay Frick; Lyman J. Gage; James A. Garfield; Lucretia Garfield; John J. Geary; Emma Goldman; John W. Griggs; Howard Melville Hanna; Marcus Hanna; John Hay; John R. Hazel; Samuel R. Ireland; Philander C. Knox; Loran L. Lewis; Abraham Lincoln; Matthew D. Mann; Charles McBurney; Ida McKinley; William McKinley; John G. Milburn; William H. H. Miller; Herman Mynter; Roswell Park; James B. Parker; Presley M. Rixey; Theodore Roosevelt; Elihu Root; John N. Scatcherd; Charles Emory Smith; Robert C. Titus; Eugene Wasdin; George Washington; Ansley Wilcox; William II.
 
Notes
No text appears on page 428 of this article.

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This article also includes photographs captioned as follows (most of which are viewable as separate documents):
 
Document

 

The Last Days of President M’Kinley:
His Visit to Buffalo, the Tragedy, and the Nation’s Mourning

PRESIDENT M’KINLEY arrived in Buffalo September 4. He was in good health and excellent spirits. For a month he had been at his home in Canton, resting, enjoying relief from most of the cares of his office. During this four weeks’ holiday he had mingled with his old friends and neighbors. He had walked about the streets of Canton and taken long drives in the country. He had taken especial pleasure in visiting his farm, a few miles from Canton; and whenever he could get some old friend in the carriage by his side he found keen delight in extended excursions and protracted conversations. For this brief season he threw off, as far as possible, the consciousness of being President, and became again the simple American gentleman. I have been told by Judge Day, Senator Hanna, and other friends who visited and rode and talked with the President at this time that it was the happiest period of his life. His wife had recovered from an illness which carried her to the very portals of the grave; she was now stronger than she had been for several years. His own health was most excellent; the strain and stress of two Presidential campaigns, and of nearly four years of unremitting toil in the executive chair—probably the most trying post to be found in all the world—had left no marks upon him. All his family and private affairs were in a most desirable condition. Thanks to economy and good management, he had recovered from the financial disaster which a few years before left him bankrupt, and had now a modest but sufficient competency. He was able to look forward with fond anticipations to his retirement from public life, and could see therein the probability of many years of quiet, dignified happiness.
     When the President went to Buffalo he was, as a public man, at the zenith of his fame. He felt that he had had great work to do, and that he had done it well. He knew the estimate the world was placing upon him and his achieve- [414][415] ments, and he was content therewith. He had grown amazingly since he first took hold of the reins of government, and he was conscious and properly proud of this growth. He knew that he had piloted the country through a stormy period, and had piloted it so well that even his political opponents had little criticism to offer. He was aware that more than any other President since Washington he had softened the rancor of party opposition; that he was liked and trusted by all the people; that the last remnants of sectionalism had disappeared under his gentle ministrations; that the people were more united in spirit, in good-will, in optimistic outlook, than they had ever been before. These things the President often spoke of to his intimate friends; he found keen satisfaction in them,—not in any egotistic or vain spirit, but in the consciousness of having done much for his country, for its material prosperity, for the uplifting of his people to a higher and better view. He was prouder of this than of any of his other achievements.
     He knew, too, that the world’s estimate of him had changed. He knew that he had grown abroad as well as at home. Though by instinct and training his horizon had in earlier years been virtually bordered by the frontiers of the United States, though domestic affairs had then engrossed his thoughts, the Presidency had broadened him. Circumstances had made his administration a world activity instead of a purely domestic concern. He had met, and met successfully, all these problems coming from without. He had risen to his opportunities. He had done as well in the international as in the purely national field. He had failed in nothing. He had impressed himself so favorably upon the nations that their respect for him as man and leader, their respect for the Government and the people whose spokesman he was, had visibly heightened. Mr. McKinley found natural and proper satisfaction in the consciousness that he had been able to take this high place in the world’s esteem, that the earlier estimate of him as a man of single idea and of wholly insular view had given way to a broader appreciation. He was especially pleased with the knowledge that in one international episode—that of China—he and his Secretary of State, Mr. Hay, had been able to pitch the world’s concert in a higher key, and to make the United States the moral leader of the nations.
     Thus, Mr. McKinley went to Buffalo in a most happy frame of mind. He was not una- [415][416] ware of his phenomenal popularity, and he was human enough to like the incense of that verdict of “well done” expressed in the plaudits of the people without regard to party lines. Exceedingly grateful to him were these evidences that the masses had responded to his teachings and his example, that the gospel of kindliness, of faith in America and Americans, of hopefulness and work, of meeting responsibilities in whatever quarter of the world they might arise, of a growing nation that must rise to its opportunities as to its duties, had fallen upon fertile soil. So far as his individual outlook was concerned, he felt a new confidence. He had only entered upon his second term. He had a united people behind him. He had voluntarily thrust aside once for all the temptation to stand for a third term. He had so cleared the way that during the three and a half years of the Presidency which remained to him he could enter upon new efforts to promote the prosperity and add to the strength of his country without subjecting himself to the slightest suspicion of self-seeking. At last, as he often remarked to his friends, he was to be President as he wanted to be. He had now no need of fearing foe or of rewarding friends. He was independent, unrestrained, free-handed. Already he was laying plans for the future. This visit to the Pan-American Exposition at Buffalo he had decided to mark as something more than a holiday, something more than an agreeable season of mingling with the people.
     President McKinley and his party were received at Buffalo with ample demonstration of popular affection. But he lost no time in speaking the words which he had come to speak, the words which were to point the way to his future policies. It was characteristic of Mr. McKinley to seize this opportunity. It had ever been a favorite method of his to test public opinion as to any new departure before entering practically upon it. He trusted the people, and believed they had a right to know in advance the intentions of their leaders. It was a part of his creed that without popular approval our statesmen can do nothing; with it, they can do almost anything. So he delivered his now famous Buffalo speech. It was heard around the world. It roused the nations as it roused our own people. Throughout Christendom one expression of his caught the imaginations of men—“God and man have linked the nations together. No nation can longer be indifferent to any other.” This gospel of commercial amity and of peaceful rivalry, this recognition of the golden rule in the relations of nations, coming from the lips of William McKinley, the former apostle of protection, naturally startled the many who did not know how rapidly and how splendidly his philosophy had broad- [416][417] ened. But it was no surprise to those who had watched the development of this masterful opportunist, this leader who had shown his power to lift up others in the way he lifted himself. It was no revelation to those who knew that his greatest pride was felt in the unification of his own people, and that now his fondest ambition was to apply the same spirit to world relations, primarily for the good of America, ultimately for the good of all nations.
     In view of what happened a few hours later, with its lamentable sequel, the intimate friends of the President look upon that Buffalo address as the farewell of William McKinley. They say it reads like a benediction. They do not pretend that its author had any premonition of his coming fate; on the contrary, they are sure he was full of hope, of confidence, of determination to go on with his great work—that he never for a moment doubted that he should be able during the next three years to secure great results. But some inspiration must have guided him, they think, to make his final utterances an appeal for the universal brotherhood of man, for an end of ungenerous rivalries, an end of wars and strife. How deeply concerned the fated President was for the success of his new world policy of amity and peace may be judged by an incident of a few days later, highly pathetic in light of events. After the wounded President had to some extent recovered his strength, he asked the surgeons for the morning newspapers.
     “It’s a little too early for that, Mr. President,” said Dr. Mann.
     “Oh, I didn’t want to read what the papers print about this affair,” replied the patient; “I wanted to see how the world is taking my speech.”
     But the fates were contrary; the end came, the eyes closed in the long sightlessness, and President McKinley never knew how his farewell words stirred and cheered the world.
     The day after the delivery of his speech, or Friday, September 6—a dark day in the American calendar—President McKinley visited Niagara Falls. He was accompanied by Mrs. McKinley and the members of the cabinet. Those who were with the President on this occasion say they had never seen him in happier mood. His sun was shining brightly that day. He was at peace with himself and with all the world. The following week he was planning to spend with his old friend, Senator Hanna, at Cleveland. To this visit he was looking forward with fondest anticipation. It is certainly a pleasant thing to know that on this day the President was yearning to be among his oldest and earliest friends. At Mr. Hanna’s house he was to meet and sup with a number who had seen little of him in these later, strenuous days. Best of all, [417][418] one or two between whom and himself a small cloud of misunderstanding had arisen were now to take his hand again. The clouds were to be rolled away. There was to be complete reconciliation. Thoughts of these things were uppermost in his mind this day; he often spoke of them. His sweet nature was never sweeter than in these last hours of health and strength. His tenderness toward his wife was never better shown than during this holiday excursion. He was not content to view any of the beautiful scenery unless she were by his side. While on the inclined railway, going down into Niagara Gorge, Mr. McKinley turned every moment, with an anxious look upon his face, to learn if Mrs. McKinley was inconvenienced by the novel and somewhat startling descent. When assured that instead of being frightened she was greatly enjoying it, his eyes lighted with satisfaction, and then for the first time did he permit himself to gaze uninterruptedly at the beauties of nature all about him.
     This sixth day of September the President was almost as light-hearted as a boy. As man, as husband, as head of the state, as leader of his people, he was more than content. He felt the thrill of his success, of his opportunities, of his power for good. He may not have been conscious of the fact, but at this moment he was without doubt the best-beloved man in all the world. The millions who looked up to him with affection and trust vastly exceeded in number and excelled in devotion the millions who looked up to any other living man. His power for good without doubt surpassed that of any of his contemporaries in the leadership of thought and action among the nations. Yet at this moment there was lurking upon the Exposition grounds at Buffalo a human viper planning to strike down this lofty spirit, to destroy this superb man. Of all the thousands of people upon those grounds, this one was perhaps the most insignificant in physical and mental equipment, in character, in capacity—a mere worm crawling in the dust. Yet he had in his perverted heart the venomous purpose, held in his hand the tiny instrument, which were to set the world a-weeping.
     The special train from Niagara Falls arrived at the Exposition grounds about 3:30 o’clock. Mrs. McKinley was sent away in a carriage to the house of Mr. Milburn, president of the Exposition, where the President and his wife were guests. Then the President, accompanied by Mr. Milburn, Secretary Cortelyou, and others, drove to the Temple of Music, where it had been arranged the President was to hold a public reception. Twenty thousand people were gathered in front of the building, and as they saw the well-known face they set up a mighty shout of welcome. The President bowed to right and left and smiled. Then the great organ in the Temple pealed forth the national air, and the throngs fell back from the entrance, that the President might pass. Inside the building, a space had been cleared for the Presidential party; the people were permitted to enter one door, pass by the President, and emerge at the opposite side of the auditorium. Usually a secret-service agent is stationed by the President’s side when he receives the public, but on this occasion President Milburn stood at the President’s left. Secretary Cortelyou was at his right, and a little to the rear. Opposite the President was Secret Service Officer Ireland. Eight or ten feet away was Officer Foster. When all was ready, the line of people was permitted to move, each one pausing to shake the hand of the President. He beamed upon them all in his courtly way. When one stranger timidly permitted himself to be pushed along without a greeting, the President called out, smilingly, “Hold on, there; give me your hand.” Mr. McKinley would never permit any one to go past him without a handshake. He was particularly gracious to the children and to timid women. Here, as we have often seen him in Washington and elsewhere, he patted little girls or boys on the head or cheek and smiled at them in his sweet way. A woman and a little girl had just passed, and were looking back at the President, proud of the gracious manner in which he had greeted them. Next came a tall, powerful negro—Parker. After Parker, a slight, boyish figure, a face bearing marks of foreign descent, a smooth, youthful face, with nothing sinister to be detected in it. No one had suspected this innocent-looking boy of a murderous purpose. He had his right hand bound up in a handkerchief, and this had been noticed by both of the secret-service men as well as by others. But the appearance in a reception line of men with wounded and bandaged hands is not uncommon. In fact, one had already passed along the line. Many men carried handkerchiefs in their hands, for the day was warm.
     So this youth approached. He was met with a smile. The President held out his hand; but it was not grasped. Supporting his bandaged right hand with his left, the assassin fired two bullets at the President. The first passed through the stomach and lodged in the back. The second, it is believed, struck a button on the President’s waistcoat and glanced therefrom, making an abrasion upon the sternum. The interval between the two shots was so short as to be scarcely measurable. As the second shot rang out, Detective Foster sprang forward and intercepted the hand [418][419] of the assassin, who was endeavoring to fire a third bullet into his victim. The President did not fall. He was at once supported by Mr. Milburn, by Detective Geary, and by Secretary Cortelyou. Before turning, he raised himself on tiptoe and cast upon the miserable wretch before him, who was at that moment in the clutches of a number of men, a look which none who saw it can ever forget. It appeared to say, “You miserable, why should you shoot me? What have I done to you?” It was the indignation of a gentleman, of a great soul, when attacked by a ruffian. A few drops of blood spurted out and fell on the President’s waistcoat. At once the wounded man was led to a chair, into which he sank. His collar was removed and his shirt opened at the front. Those about him fanned him with their hats. Secretary Cortelyou bent over his chief, and Mr. McKinley whispered, “Cortelyou, be careful. Tell Mrs. McKinley gently.”
     A struggle ensued immediately between the assassin and those about him. Detective Foster not only intercepted the arm of the murderer, and prevented the firing of a third shot from the revolver concealed in the handkerchief, but he planted a blow square upon the assassin’s face. Even after he fell, Czolgosz endeavored to twist about and fire again at the President. Mr. Foster threw himself upon the wretch. Parker, the colored man, struck him almost at the same instant that Foster did. Indeed, a half-dozen men were trying to beat and strike the murderer, and they were so thick about him that they struck one another in their excitement. A private of the artillery corps at one moment had a bayonet-sword at the neck of Czolgosz, and would have driven it home had not Detective Ireland held his arm and begged him not to shed blood there before the President. Just then the President raised his eyes, saw what was going on, and with a slight motion of his right hand toward his assailant, exclaimed:
     “Let no one hurt him.”
     While the guards were driving the people out of the building, Secretary Cortelyou asked the President if he felt any pain. Mr. McKinley slipped his hand through his shirt-front and pressed his fingers against his breast. “I feel a sharp pain here,” he said. On withdrawing his hand he saw that the ends of his fingers were red with blood. The President closed his lips tightly, but made no outcry. His head sank back upon the arm of his faithful secretary; he appeared drowsy. At this moment Ambassador Aspiroz, of Mexico, forced his way to the wounded man’s [419][420] side, and in his excitement cried: “Oh, God, my President, are you shot?” The President roused himself and smiled sadly into the face of the ambassador. “Yes, I believe I am,” he replied, faintly. His head sank back again, but only for a moment. Suddenly straightening up in his chair, he gripped its arms tightly and thrust his feet straight out before him with a quick, nervous movement. Thus he sat till the ambulance arrived.
     The assassin was quickly taken away by the police and the detectives. By a ruse and quick work, they managed to place him in a cell before the maddened people could rend him in pieces. Mr. McKinley was placed on a stretcher and carried out to the ambulance. When the people saw their President on this bed of pain they wept and sobbed. A deep groan, a wave of pity, grief, horror, anger, swept through the throng. The automobile ambulance quickly carried the wounded President to the Exposition hospital. On the way thither he reached inside his waistcoat, as if feeling for something, found it, and remarked to Detective Foster: “That feels like a bullet. Is it a bullet?” Mr. Foster placed his fingers upon the spot and replied: “It is a bullet, Mr. President.” “Well,” said the wounded man, “it is only one.” When the President’s clothing was removed at the hospital this bullet dropped to the floor. Mr. Foster picked it up, and now has it in his possession, a grim reminder of the tragedy.
     On the way to the hospital, Mr. McKinley whispered to Secretary Cortelyou: “Be careful of the doctors. I leave all that to you.” The wounded President must have had in mind the professional unpleasantness connected with the Garfield case. He was an intimate friend of Garfield and of Mrs. Garfield. From the lips of the latter he had often heard the sad story of those long, hard weeks in 1881, when the master of the White House lay dying without faith in the treatment which was given him, convinced he was going to die, feeling helpless and fated. Arriving at the hospital, Secretary Cortelyou soon had opportunity to assume the grave responsibility which circumstances and the words of his chief had thrust upon him. It was at 4:12 o’clock that the assassin fired his shots. At 4:35 the President lay upon the operating-table; his clothing had been removed; morphine had been administered hypodermically, relieving nerve strain. All was in readiness for an operation; but who should perform it? Into what hands should this precious life be committed? It was a crucial moment for Secretary Cortelyou. Many surgeons had been telephoned for. Others who chanced to be upon the Exposition grounds at the moment volunteered their services. “You know all these men,” said Mr. Cortelyou to President Milburn; “when the right one arrives, tell me.” Dr. Herman Mynter was the first to arrive, bringing with him Dr. Eugene Wasdin, of the marine hospital service. Dr. Mynter said an immediate operation was necessary. A few minutes after 5, Dr. Matthew D. Mann, professor of obstetrics and gynecology in the medical department of the University of Buffalo, [420][421] reached the hospital. Mr. Milburn whispered to Secretary Cortelyou, “That’s the man for the operation.”
     The question then arose whether the operation should be performed immediately, or whether it should await the coming of Dr. Roswell Park, president of the American Society of Surgeons and medical director of the Pan-American Exposition. Dr. Park was at Niagara Falls. When the telegram reached him he was performing an operation. With the knife in his hand, he turned to his assistant and said: “I can finish this alone. Now go and arrange a special train for Buffalo.” Two hours must elapse before he could reach the Exposition hospital, and all who stood about the operating-table on which lay the head of the nation turned their eyes upon Mr. Cortelyou. He consulted with Melville Hanna, a brother of Senator Hanna, a student of surgery and himself the subject of three operations; John N. Scatcherd, vice-president of the Buffalo Exposition, and one or two others. These gentlemen told Mr. Cortelyou to go ahead; they would share with him the responsibility. Mr. Cortelyou then whispered to the President, and, turning to Dr. Mann, instructed him to begin the operation.
     At 5:20 o’clock, one hour and ten minutes after the wound was inflicted, Dr. Wasdin began administering the ether. In ten minutes the President was well under its influence. Dr. Mann then made an incision five inches long perpendicular to the body, through the bullet wound, which was four inches below the left nipple and an inch and a half to the left of the median line. It was found that the ball—of .32 caliber—had passed through both walls of the stomach. One of the physicians present at the operation furnished the following technical data to the New York Medical Journal:

     A piece of cloth, probably a bit of undershirt, was found in the track of the missile; it looked as if it had been “punched out” by the ball. Upon opening the [421][422] peritoneum, a bullet-hole was discovered in the anterior central portion of the stomach. This viscus was drawn up into the operation wound, and the perforation, after examination, was closed with a double row of silk sutures. A little oozing of the stomach-contents had occurred through the opening, all of which was wiped away. On examination of the dorsum of the stomach, another opening was found. This was sutured also. The intestines were examined for wounds, but none were found; these were wrapped in hot moist towels. A further search for the missile failed to find it; but it became apparent that it had done no other vital damage, with the strong probability that it lost itself in the thick lumbar muscles. The abdominal cavity was flushed with normal salt solution, and the closure begun. Seven deep silk worm-gut sutures were employed, and catgut was placed superficially between them. At about 6:50 the anæsthetic was discontinued and the abdominal bandage applied. The President’s pulse was now 122; respiration, 22.

     Dr. Park arrived before the operation was finished and joined the staff as consultant.
     The wounded President was at once taken to the residence of Mr. Milburn. Dr. Rixey undertook the sad task of conveying the news to Mrs. McKinley. “The President has met with an accident—he has been hurt,” were his first words. “Tell me all—keep nothing from me!” cried Mrs. McKinley; “I will be brave—yes, I will be brave for his sake!” Dr. Rixey then told her the whole story.
     At once a thrill of anguish and horror ran through the world. Cablegrams of inquiry and regret from all governments poured in upon the State Department at Washington. King Edward, Emperor William, and other sovereigns sent personal messages. Vice-President Roosevelt, members of the cabinet, and friends of the President started for Buffalo by special trains. Extra editions of the newspapers were issued that evening in all American cities. The people remained up till late at night, surrounding the bulletin boards, anxious for the latest tidings. Grief was universal and profound. When the people finally went to bed that night it was with heavy hearts. They believed the President was fatally wounded.
     The assassin, who first gave his name as Nieman, was quickly discovered to be Leon Czolgosz, a Pole, twenty-eight years of age, whose home had been at Cleveland, Ohio, where his parents were found to be hard-working, well-meaning people. They were horrified at the news that their son had murdered the President. The assassin made no other confession to the police than the simple statement that he was an anarchist, that he had “done his duty,” and that he had been inspired by the preachments of Emma Goldman, whom he had once heard lecture. At once the police began a search for Emma Goldman, and a few days later she was arrested in Chicago. A week afterward she was released on bail, and at this writing there does not appear to be any evidence upon which she can be tried and convicted.
     For several days the newspapers were filled with rumors of anarchistic plots. A number of arrests were made in Chicago and other cities. The Government secret service and the chiefs of police threw out a drag-net, and shadowed or arrested every person who was thought likely to have had any connection whatever with a plot against the President. Many suspects were subjected to rigorous examination by the “sweat-box” process, but up to this date, so far as the public is informed, nothing of value has been elicited. Among Government officials and the detectives who have been working on the case there is a strong belief that the assassin had no accomplices; that he was a youthful and zealous recruit in the anarchistic ranks; that his head had been turned by the rhetorical vaporings of the anarchistic speakers and writers, and that he set out, alone, secretly and unaided, to do a deed that would make him infamously famous. The police authorities in Buffalo did their part to induce the assassin to confess. They alternately wheedled and abused him; they set traps for him, they treated him with great severity; but not one word could they draw from the stubborn wretch. September 17, Czolgosz was arraigned in court at Buffalo. Two well-known lawyers, Judges Titus and Lewis, were assigned by the court to defend the accused, and they reluctantly accepted the task as a matter of duty. One of these counsel interviewed the prisoner in his cell, but was compelled to announce to the court that he could get no information whatever from his client. The trial was set for an early day, and it is probable that within two months from the day of the crime the assassin will have been convicted and electrocuted. There appears to be no doubt of his sanity.
     There speedily arose throughout the country a great outcry against anarchism. Former Attorney-General Miller suggested that Congress enact a law declaring any attempt upon the life of a President to be treason; but it is agreed that such a law would have to be preceded by an amendment of the Constitution. During the days when the President’s recovery seemed probable, the country was ill-content with the prospect that the criminal could be punished only by imprisonment for ten years, that to be computed [sic] to seven years for good behavior. Seven years for shooting down the gentle, noble President! It was at once suggested by Attorney-General Knox that the criminal might be tried on three counts, as [422][423] had been done in the case of the man who attempted to kill Mr. Henry C. Frick in Pittsburg; for it was learned that Czolgosz had followed the President to Niagara Falls, intending to shoot him there, and had also tried to get near to the President on the Exposition grounds the day before. Much discussion was started throughout the country as to the best means of dealing with anarchy and punishing conspirators; and it is understood that a new law, to be framed by ex-Attorney-General Griggs and present Attorney-General Knox, is likely to be enacted by Congress next winter. In many places men were roughly treated for uttering disparaging remarks about the President, and in Iowa, it was reported, a secret society had been formed to fight fire with fire—to assassinate anarchistic assassins.
     All day Saturday, September 7, great anxiety and excitement prevailed throughout the world. By nightfall the bulletins had become more encouraging. There was ground for hope that the President might recover. Mrs. McKinley was permitted to see her husband, and their interview was of a cheerful nature, considering the circumstances. The President tried to encourage her; she bore herself well, that he might not be distressed on her account. Meanwhile, a large number of the President’s relatives had arrived in Buffalo, as well as the Vice-President, members of the cabinet, and other distinguished men. The Milburn house had in an instant become the center of the nation’s hopes and fears. Newspaper and telegraph headquarters were established across the street, and the long vigil was begun. This day, Senator Hanna and other friends of the President concluded to send for Dr. Charles McBurney, of New York. Before doing so they consulted the physicians and surgeons already engaged in the case, and these unanimously and heartily urged that Dr. McBurney be summoned at once.
     Sunday the reports became more and more encouraging. Dr. McBurney arrived, and after a thorough examination of the patient joined the other physicians in an official bulletin of reassuring character. The New York surgeon’s judgment had been anxiously awaited, on account of his great reputation; and when he privately told members of the family, cabinet officers, and intimate friends who had a right to the truth that the President was almost sure to recover, there was great rejoicing. This verdict, telegraphed throughout the world, brought relief to many millions of heavy hearts. Dr. McBurney warmly praised the treatment of the case up to the hour of his arrival. He said the operation had been perfectly performed, and that the promptness with which it had been undertaken had doubtless saved the life of Mr. McKinley. Comment was made by him and by others upon the fortunate circumstance that the shooting took place at the Exposition, where an ambulance was within call, and where within a few minutes’ journey stood a complete hospital, with every appliance known to modern surgery. When asked if the President’s age were not against him, and if there were any known cases of recovery from such wounds when the patient had passed his fiftieth year, Dr. McBurney explained that in vitality, in resisting power, in preservation of the tissues from disintegration, Mr. McKinley had led so good and careful a life that he was the equal of the average man of forty-five years of age. This Sunday was a day of prayer for the wounded President throughout the country, and when these cheerful [423][424] tidings were published in the newspapers next morning it did seem as if the prayers had been answered and that the President would get well.
     Monday, the news was still better. Secretary Cortelyou issued a statement declaring that nothing was being withheld from the public; that the people had a right to the truth, and should have it. This naturally helped to restore public confidence. Announcement was made that the surgeons had decided not to use the X-ray apparatus sent them, at their request, by Thomas A. Edison, and that for the present, at least, no efforts were to be made to locate the missing bullet. The doctors and friends of the President began to talk of taking him back to the White House by the 1st of October. The patient’s two sisters, convinced that their brother was on the way to recovery, returned to their home in Ohio. Senator Hanna left for Cleveland. Vice-President Roosevelt, assured by the surgeons that the crisis was passed and the danger now at a minimum, started for the Adirondacks. Secretary Gage and Attorney-General Knox went to Washington. This day the President asked for the newspapers, and Senator Hanna smilingly predicted that he would soon ask for a cigar.
     On Tuesday, the President was declared convalescent. For the first time since the shooting, nourishment was given him through the mouth. He was permitted to turn himself in bed and to lie upon his side. The danger of blood-poisoning was said to be over; if it were to appear at all, it would have shown itself ere this. In the evening, some disquiet was caused by the news that the surgeons had found it advisable to reopen the operation wound to remove a bit of foreign material—a fragment of the President’s coat—which the bullet had carried a short distance beneath the skin, and which had caused slight irritation. There was reassurance when the official bulletin announced that “this incident cannot give rise to other complications, but it is communicated to the public, as the surgeons in attendance wish to make their bulletins entirely frank.” The members of the cabinet were this day promised that on Friday they should be permitted to see and talk with their chief. Twice a day Mrs. McKinley was allowed to enter her husband’s chamber for a short time, but a like privilege was extended to no one else save the surgeons and the nurses.
     By Wednesday, the whole country was convinced that the President was recovering. Optimism and confidence gave way to the most gloomy forebodings. The last bulletin of the day was the best yet issued. Decided benefit was declared to have followed the dressing of the wound the night before. The President was able to digest liquid food, and the quantity given him was gradually increased. Microscopic count of the number of red and white corpuscles in a drop of blood taken from the patient’s ear indicated no signs of blood-poisoning. The President confirmed Senator Hanna’s prediction and asked for a cigar. He was in a cheerful mood, and had no doubt that he should recover. Secretary Hay and Postmaster-General Smith returned to Washington.
     Thursday morning, the President was given a little solid food; he relished it, and it appeared to do him good. “He feels better than at any time before,” said the forenoon bulletin. Dr. McBurney left for New York, convinced that it would not be necessary for him to return. But the unfavorable turn which a few had feared came at last. At 3 o’clock in the afternoon the President was not so well. By 8:30 in the evening he was decidedly worse. The solid food had not agreed with him, said the bulletin. Excretion had not been established, and the pulse was unsatisfactory. Cathartics were administered. Then the heart began to show signs of weakness, and failed to respond to stimulation. In the early hours of Friday morning the scenes about the Milburn house were almost dramatic. Lights burned in all the windows. Carriages and automobiles rushed up at frantic pace every few moments, bringing doctors and members of the family. Across the street, the soldiers paced up and down; newspaper men darted to and fro; in the tents and election booths which had been put up for their use, the correspondents and telegraph operators were making the wires throb with dread tidings.
     The American people, who had retired the night before full of hope and confidence, had a rude awakening Friday morning. Their newspapers were filled with big head-lines. The President was sinking. His life was despaired of. At 3 o’clock the surgeons had been compelled to admit that their patient’s condition was “very serious and gives rise to the greatest apprehension.” Digitalis was being administered to stimulate the heart. Even while the people read, their President might be dying.
     That was a Black Friday for the people. Their hearts were sore. Many of them gave over all thought of work, and did nothing but watch the bulletin boards and buy extra newspapers. During the day, there were faint flickers of hope. At 9 o’clock in the morning the bulletin said the President was conscious, free from pain; his condition had somewhat improved; there was a better response to stimulation. At 2:30 in the afternoon, hope was a little stronger, for the [424][425] doctors said their patient had more than held his own; they looked for further improvement. But an hour and a half later even this meager encouragement ceased. By 5:35, the surgeons could not disguise the fact that the President was dying. He was suffering extreme prostration. Oxygen was given, but it did not produce the desired effect. A little after 6 o’clock a report that the President was dead was circulated.
     But it was premature. The President still lived. Most of the time he was unconscious. Occasionally he opened his eyes and tried to smile. At this time he knew he was fated; for once, as the surgeons were administering the oxygen, he looked up and whispered: “What’s the use?” About 7 o’clock he summoned enough strength to ask for Mrs. McKinley. They led her to his bedside; then all retired from the room. The dying husband’s face lighted up as he saw his life-companion bending over him. She kissed and caressed him; she stroked his hair; she crooned over him like a mother over a stricken child. Each tried to be brave for the other’s sake. Those who stood watch just within the adjoining room heard whispers pass between the lovers; they heard sobs and cries; then they led Mrs. McKinley away.
     In this last period of consciousness, which ended about 8 o’clock, the President’s lips were seen to be moving. The surgeons bent down to hear his words. He chanted the first lines of his favorite hymn, “Nearer, My God, to Thee.” A little later he spoke again; Dr. Mann wrote the words down at the bedside,—and the last conscious utterance of William McKinley was:
     “Good-bye, all; good-bye. It is God’s way. His will be done.”
     The President soon afterward lapsed into unconsciousness, and did not rally again. His heart-beats came more and more faintly. His extremities chilled. It was only a question of a little time. One by one, members of the family stood by his side, kissed his pallid brow, spoke his well-loved name, and drew away in anguish. Most of the members of the cabinet came to say farewell. Each took the moist, limp hand—the hand that had so well guided the helm of the ship of state—and held it for a moment in a parting clasp. Senator Hanna, ashen-faced, limped to the bedside of his great friend, and called, “Mr. President! Mr. President!” Hearing no response, he cried, in choking tones, “William! William!” But it was in vain.
     Thus the hours passed. The President’s life slowly slipped away. At times it was difficult to say if the heart were still beating. Now and then the sufferer reached out his hand as if he would grasp something; Dr. Rixey gave him his forefinger, and the President clutched it like a child with a toy. The end came at 2:15 A. M., Saturday, September 14. In all his hours of suffering, no word of petulance or complaint escaped his lips. His sweet nature showed itself sweeter than ever in the last hours. He met his fate bravely, forgiving his murderer, resigned, at peace with his God and himself.
     Grief overwhelmed the nation. The people never lost one whom they had loved better.
     Theodore Roosevelt, now the constitutional President, was at a hunting camp in the Adirondacks when the tidings reached him. He at once started for Buffalo by special train, arriving there before 2 o’clock in the afternoon. But he did not take the oath of office en route, and once in Buffalo, he dismissed the escort of cavalry and mounted police which had met him at the station and drove straight to the Milburn house. It was as a private citizen that he called to pay homage to the remains of the dead President and to offer his condolence to the representatives of the widow and the family. This done, he went to the house of his friend and host, Ansley Wilcox; and there, in the presence of the members of the cabinet, a few friends, and a score or more of newspaper men, he prepared to qualify as the head of the state. Beautifully simple as was the ceremony, it was nevertheless exceedingly impressive. Requested by Secretary of War Root, speaking for the cabinet, to take the oath, he replied:
     “I am ready to take the oath. And I wish to say that it shall be my aim to continue, absolutely unbroken, the policies of President McKinley for the peace, the prosperity, and the honor of our beloved country.” [425][426]
     Mr. Roosevelt’s voice was choked with emotion when he began to speak. Then he recovered his self-possession. The vista of toil and responsibility opening before him appeared to rouse his energies and his courage; for now his tones rang out clear and strong, and there was the emphasis of deep sincerity and great purposefulness in the way he spoke the closing words.
     “Theodore Roosevelt,” exclaimed District Judge Hazel, “hold up your right hand.”
     Mr. Roosevelt’s right hand shot up into the air with nervous energy. He held it there without a tremor, his left hand clutching the lapel of his coat. Erect, self-possessed, vigor and alertness showing in every line of his figure, and nothing but the blinking of fine eyes behind his thick glasses telling of the emotions that stirred within him, he repeated after Judge Hazel, in clear, firm tones, the memorable words:
     “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. And thus I swear.”
     As simple as this was the coronation of this new leader of the mightiest of nations. No pomp, no blare of trumpet or roll of drum, no robes or music, no march of armed men or thunder of cannon. Only a few men, hats in hand, standing in the parlor of an American gentleman’s modest home; servants peering in from the hall; outside, two or three policemen; a crowd of silent men and women across the street needing no restraint. It was all over in a few moments; and yet in these few moments this young man, not yet forty-three years old, had taken within his hand a greater power and upon his shoulders a greater burden than any king or emperor or czar knows.
     A mile away lay the dead President. Here stood the living. And thus was the supreme executive power in the republic transferred from the one to the other. William McKinley’s eloquent lips were closed in the eternal silence; but Theodore Roosevelt had just spoken words which gave hope and confidence to the nation and to the world. The effect of his announcement that it was his aim to continue the policies of his predecessor reassured foreign powers, brought a feeling of security to the financial and business [426][427] world, inspired and comforted the people. A new man and a young man and a strenuous man had taken the reins of government, but there was to be no experimentation. Tried and approved policies were to be continued absolutely unbroken. The response to this declaration was swift and hearty. Press and people applauded; and before he had reached the national capital President Roosevelt had the world’s verdict upon his fitness and his prudence in higher values upon the exchanges on both sides of the Atlantic.
     Within forty-eight hours after taking the oath of office, President Roosevelt had laid the foundations of a successful administration. Before reaching Washington he had invited all the members of the McKinley cabinet to remain at their posts, not simply for the time being, but indefinitely, as if he had been elected President and had chosen them to be his counselors. All have accepted. In this way the new President has not only paid his martyred predecessor the highest possible tribute in announcing to the world that the McKinley policies are to be his policies, and that the McKinley men are to be his men—that what Mr. McKinley built is to stand as a monument to his wisdom—but in four days he has attached to himself all the strength and ability which Mr. McKinley had been four years in gathering about him. Almost poetic, as well as practically promising, is the pledge of the new President to regard the Buffalo speech as expressive of the creed of Mr. McKinley, which is to live on in the new administration and bear good fruits.
     The day Mr. Roosevelt took the oath of office in Buffalo the surgeons held an autopsy upon the remains of Mr. McKinley. Death had resulted from gangrene affecting the stomach around the bullet wounds, as well as the tissues around the farther course of the ball. There was no evidence that nature had made any progress with the work of repair. Death was unavoidable by any surgical or medical treatment. Consensus of opinion among surgeons suggests the conclusion of the practitioners engaged in the case and in the autopsy report (1) that the President never had the slightest chance to recover, and (2) that the surgical steps taken immediately after the shooting were such as might have saved his life under favorable conditions. But in order to have these favorable conditions, the wound must be in the body of a man of youthful vigor and of such strenuous vitality that nature may enter at once upon the work of reconstruction and healing. Some professional controversy has naturally been started in the press, but the family and intimate friends of the late President, and most of the eminent physicians and surgeons who have expressed an opinion, are thoroughly satisfied that [427][429] there was no fault in the treatment, and that all that science could do to save the precious life was done. Nor was it possible, it appears in the sequel, for the surgeons to know that nature was not engaged in the work of repair and that gangrene was slowly sapping the patient’s strength and sending poison to the heart. They could know of this condition only by the manifestations which it was sure to produce; and these did not appear till Thursday, or the sixth day after the operation. The only reasonable criticism so far passed upon the surgeons is that the continued high pulse of their patient should have led them to exercise greater caution in their bulletins.
     All day Sunday the remains of the President lay in state in the city hall at Buffalo, after simple and beautiful services at the Milburn house. Monday morning a special train bore the body to Washington, and all along the way there was a pathetic demonstration of the sorrow of the people. Bells were tolled, hymns sung by choral societies, flowers strewn upon the track. For four hundred and fifty miles the train ran between two parallel lines of citizens standing with bared heads. Not a few of them were in tears. The schools were dismissed, and the pupils stood by the side of the track with flowers or tiny furled flags in their hands.
     At the national capital the remains of President McKinley slept for the night in the White House, scene of his labors and his triumphs. Mrs. McKinley occupied her old room, full of bitter-sweet associations. President Roosevelt went to the house of his sister. Next day a solemn procession swept up historic Pennsylvania Avenue, and impressive funeral services were held in the rotunda of the Capitol. The catafalque which bore the body of President McKinley had carried also the remains of President Lincoln and President Garfield. President Roosevelt and all the officials of the Government, army and navy officers, Supreme Court judges, many Senators and Representatives, and members of the diplomatic corps attended the obsequies. The only living ex-President, Mr. Cleveland, was present.
     Tuesday night a special train bore the funeral cortége to Canton, and the next day the remains of the President lay in state among his neighbors and townsmen. Deep was the grief, innumerable were the pathetic incidents, as the men and women who had so well known and loved the dead statesman pressed forward to look upon [429][430] his face. On Thursday, services were held in the Methodist church of which Mr. McKinley had long been a member, and that afternoon the body was deposited in the public receiving-vault at Westlawn Cemetery, near to the graves of Mr. and Mrs. McKinley’s two children. Just two weeks had elapsed since the President, in full health and happiness, and with the star of his fame shining brighter than ever before, had left Canton for his visit to Buffalo.

 

 


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